Sunday, 17 September 2017

MIND THE...MEN


What do we want?
Not to be sexually harassed on the tube.

Where do we want it?
In which ever damn well coach we want to sit in.

I’m talking about women only carriages, the idea that’s been floating around since Chris Williamson’s proposal that they should, at least, be considered in the last few weeks. In the last year, 1,448 sexual offences have been reported on trains – more than double the number reported in 2012-13 (whether that’s more actual incidents or more reporting, we do not know). From this stems the ingenious idea of women only carriages: by segregating women on public transport, they cannot be sexually assaulted.

And the more I hear about it, the more furious I get because since when, in the 21st century, was gender segregation the answer? As a young woman, who occasionally travels on trains, alone, at night, I sometimes feel intimidated. I've been verbally abused on trains, I've received rape threats, I’ve witnessed a man openly masturbating, and I’ve been intimidated by groups of drunk men who insist on sitting as near to you as they possibly can and, quite frankly, chatting shit. I agree that it’s not acceptable. But those are a handful of instances, and I use the train and the tube nearly every day. 99% of the time I do not feel threatened, and only move away from someone because I’m too jealous of their McDonald’s to watch them devour it. By creating women only coaches, we normalise sexual assault (or verbal, or harassment or any kind of unpleasant and unacceptable experience) on public transport, treating it as an inevitability. We also normalise the idea that all men are sexual predators, and should be avoided when travelling alone. We tell women and girls that they are unsafe unless they are sitting in a particular carriage, and we obstruct their freedom to sit wherever they want. We treat men like criminals, who cannot be trusted to travel home without touching someone up.

Women are not the only people who fear and face violence on public transport. Post-Brexit vote and, more recently, post-Manchester and London Bridge attacks, there have been reports of increased racial attacks – namely Islamaphobic attacks – sometimes on public transport. What if the Labour MP had suggested that, as well as having women only carriages, we would also have Muslim only carriages? Or maybe gay only carriages? Or racist white people only carriages? Would that be deemed acceptable? No. Because, yet again, segregation is not the answer, and marginalising groups who have worked and protested hard for their right to be respected members of society, safe in their own communities, it is nothing but a backwards step. Indeed, it ignores the fact that men may also feel unsafe travelling alone – maybe threatened by sexual assault, or robbery, or from being beaten up by other angry, drunk passengers and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How do we enforce this is another question on everyone’s lips. How do we make sure that there are no men in the women’s carriages, and does that require having more guards on trains (a topic there is already huge amounts of discussion…and striking about)? Is it the responsibility of the woman to position herself in this carriage, and who do we blame if she is sexually assaulted whilst sitting in the ‘normal’ carriage? Is it her own fault, and are we simply reverting to a system of victim shaming? And are we saying that ‘anything goes’ in the ‘normal’ carriages? Are these carriages available at any time of day, or just late at night – because, let me tell you, it doesn’t need to be dark for someone to feel vulnerable.

Women only carriages encourage women to be afraid of men. They act to demonise thousands of innocent men. They fail to recognise other vulnerable people. They promote segregation as a necessary, and sexual assault as a normality.

Today, should our greatest worry to be MIND THE GAP or to MIND THE MEN? 
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